When you first open the heavy wooden door leading into the new look Muddy Duck in Hethe near Bicester, you are greeted by a myriad of stars in the darkness with a space station high above. Focus your eyes and you realise you are in the midst of a forest, with paths leading off in different directions.
Wind through the forest, wreathed in vines, leaves and boughs, woodland animals chattering as you venture on, the walls hidden by trees, lights hanging from the branches to lead you.
Little alcoves of tiny abodes, creaking cupboards of curiosities, forest homes, it’s like visiting Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree. You can’t actually believe your eyes.
And then there, laid out before you, is the Bird Cage bar, the ornate cages hanging above huge purple booths nestled in a glade, all framed by a large looming tree.
“We wanted to provide a unique experience with a sense of fun that made people smile” Nigel says having just showed me the NASA space toilets
There you can drink pre-dinner cocktails while you wait to be taken into The Hollow where Pierre Koffmann and his team (YES REALLY!), led by head chef Christopher Lindsay, will be waiting to serve you some truly exceptional food, mains ranging from £40-£60.
Those wanting a more private evening can take a table in the Luna Room, while the rest revel in the eccentric splendour created by The Muddy Duck’s Gemma and Nigel Harris.
The Muddy Duck will be the most Instagrammed pub/restaurant in the country and now boasts one of its most famous chefs
Anyone wanting a more informal, traditional evening should venture on through to The Lodge, where good pub fare will be served in a kitsch hunting lodge style vibe.
Where to even start? Perhaps with The Muddy Duck closing its doors for 16 months and reexamining what to do next.
Gemma and Nigel said they never considered selling the pub, which they opened to equal fanfare in 2012 (who can forget the large yellow ducks running around at the opening).
But Covid, its reopening, closing, and different manifestations, gave Gemma and Nigel time to come up with this new look concept and this is the result – one pub, one restaurant, two bars, plus they managed to convince Pierre Koffmann into coming on board to serve his famous classic French cuisine.
So not only will The Muddy Duck be the most Instagrammed pub/restaurant in the country but it now boasts one of its most famous chefs. So how did this whole mad, exciting and utterly bonkers project come about?
“We didn’t want to be normal. We wanted to provide a unique experience with a sense of fun that made people smile after the last three years of the pandemic,” Nigel says calmly, having just showed me the NASA space toilets.
The only problem is that due to front of house staff shortages The Hollow cannot open yet, although The Lodge will be in action from May 19
The only problem is that due to front of house staff shortages The Hollow cannot open yet, although The Lodge will be in action from tomorrow (May 19).
“The Hollow has to work impeccably from the start, so until we have the right front of house team in place we can’t open.” Gemma says sadly, “even though everything is in place in terms of the kitchen and decor we need to recruit more people to come forward to work here, someone with warmth, a passion for hospitality and the ability to get stuck in because it will be all hands to the pump.”
As for Pierre, Nigel has worked with him in the past so invited him to head up the team at the new look Muddy Duck.
Koffmann is of course the Grandfather of French cuisine in the UK, who has trained the likes of Tom Aikens, Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, Marcus Wareing, Bruno Loubet, Tom Kitchin and Jason Atherton, to name a few. So it’s a massive kudos to have him on board.
As for the kitchen team Pierre and Chris, (the latter comes from The Ritz) are keen to train up as many young chefs as possible there, almost like an academy.
“Pierre loves working and rolling his sleeves up in the kitchen, and our new GM is Deirdra McAllister from The Perch.”
But where did they get their aesthetic inspiration from? “It’s basically a look inside our head at all the things we love,” Gemma says. “We wanted to enable people to go out and smile again.”
“But the actual dining experience is the opposite – it’s classic French cooking served on white china.
So hw does Chris feel about being reunited with Pierre Koffmann? “I can’t wait to be working with him again (Pierre trained Chris at The Berkeley), so when he rang and asked if I would move to the country, it was like he’d been reading my mind because I’ve just had a little boy. It was perfect timing.
“However, there’s no point opening until we can do it properly and that will take a few months,” he says. “So it’s very exciting and slightly frustrating at the same time because I can’t wait to get going and start cooking for people again.”
Nigel and Gemma hope to be open seven days a week eventually, as and when they find the staff they need, but for now The Lodge will be open Thursday-Sunday.
Keep up to date at https://www.themuddyduckpub.co.uk/home